SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB SSD Review

SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB SSD Review

SanDisk brings another consumer friendly SSD to the market. This four-channel controlled drive should hit a very low price point and the programming should keep it very quick.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Jan 30 2013 9:59 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:31 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: SanDisk

Introduction

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Prior to CES 2013 we had an influx of new cutting edge SSDs hit the office. Ideally, all of these new products would have been published on January 7, the first day of the show. They weren't and it's my fault - sorry about the delay. The good news is we now have all of our testing finished and were able to spend some real time with all of these drives. Sometimes being first doesn't mean you win the race.

The SSD market is booming and the projected growth is the highest we've seen for any storage product in a very long time. This amount of growth doesn't have a lot to do with SSDs increasing in capacity or even being faster than the existing products on the market. It has to do with cost. The lower prices are driving the SSD market right now and into the future. For the next six months we won't see any large performance increases, SATA III is pretty much tapped out. We will see lower prices and higher capacities - the two roadblocks holding mainstream users back from adapting the technology.

The SanDisk Ultra Plus is a mainstream offering designed to decrease the cost of ownership. At the time of writing, the 256GB model we're looking at today costs $219.99 at Newegg, the same as the Extreme SSD 240GB. We feel the price is higher than it should be and aren't afraid to put that out in the open here on the first page of this review. I don't think the $219.99 price is going to stick for very long. I honestly think this drive will get down to around the $150 mark within the next three months.

The reason why is because the SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB uses a four-channel Marvell controller which is cheaper to use than a SandForce controller, it also uses SanDisk's own 19nm NAND flash. The flash is also cheaper to work with than the 24nm used on the SanDisk Extreme SSD. In our CES coverage we told you about Micron's coming price war that will heat up with the release of the M500 960GB for $600 with prices scaling proportionally through the other capacity sizes. The price war is coming, right now these companies are just tossing stones at each other, but soon the silos will heat up as full on nuclear war starts.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Surprisingly, SanDisk doesn't go into a lot of detail about the new Ultra Plus SSD on their website. From reading the description we see that most potential buyers will see this as just another SSD and be oblivious to some of the really innovative features this drive packs under the hood.

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Before we dive in and make this just another review, let's talk about SanDisk's new eX2 ABL MLC NAND flash. We've known for a while now that flash can work in different modes. MLC doesn't only have to work with 2-bits in each cell, it's possible for the controller to tell the flash to write just one bit into each cell to increase performance - in the past we've called this "performance mode" from another drive manufacturers. SanDisk has taken the spare area of the NAND and turned it into 'kind of SLC'. The SLC-like area is used by the Marvell 88SS9175 controller to write random data, typically very small file writes. SanDisk calls this SLC like area "nCache". The technology is very cool and innovative, but SanDisk isn't the only company using it. Remember, we said we had a large number of drives arrive before CES.

Paired with the nCache equipped NAND is a Marvell 9275 controller, a new 4-channel version of Van Gogh. We've heard this controller referred to as Van Gogh Lite a couple of times now, but we haven't found much online about it.

The SanDisk marketing specs show three capacity sizes, 64GB, 128GB and the model we're looking at today, 256GB. Newegg lists the 128GB and 256GB models now for $109.99 and $219.99 respectively.

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Unlike the SanDisk Extreme, SanDisk ships this product with a desktop adapter bracket, SATA cable and 7mm to 9.5mm stick on adapter. On the SanDisk website, we also found an additional kit priced at $34.99 and it includes data migration software, a USB to SATA adapter cable, desktop adapter bracket, screws, screwdriver and a SATA cable. The Ultra Plus ships with a three year warranty.

Packaging

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In typical SanDisk fashion the Ultra Plus ships in a tame package void of bright colors. The understated look goes well with SanDisk, but we have to admit it would look better with flames on the box or something of that sort.

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The back of the package gives us a little detail on the drive, but as you may of noticed by now, we haven't mentioned any performance data at all. That's because SanDisk doesn't give any performance data at all on their website or on the package other than the website stating, "... read speeds up to 530MB/s..." It's really an odd way to market a SSD especially when on the brink of a price war.

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In our reviewers guide we found a detail list of the specifications for the two highest capacity Ultra Plus models. What's interesting is although the Ultra Plus uses a four-channel controller, the 256GB model looks like it can run with the Extreme, a drive using the LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller.

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Inside the package, we found a nice assortment of accessories. The 7mm to 9.5mm adapter bracket is under the SSD. All of the components get tucked into the package on the opposite side of the drive when packed so nothing is able to scratch the drive during shipping.

SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB SSD

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Here we get our first look at the Ultra Plus SSD.

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The drive uses a 7mm form factor, but ships with an adapter bracket. We've never had an issue installing a 7mm drive in a notebook, but we've observed a few systems where a problem may occur. The 7mm form factor retains the same screw positions found on 9.5mm drives.

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This is where I think you'll be shocked. We've seen three quarter PCB designs and even half-length designs, but the Ultra Plus is our first one quarter length design. The Marvell Van Gogh Lite was designed mainly for mSATA products and quad channel means four NAND flash packages work fine.

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Here we see the actual drive - it's tiny. On this side SanDisk used two NAND flash chips, the Marvell controller and a Samsung DRAM chips.

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Two more SanDisk NAND flash packages are on the opposite side.

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We've yet to find a SanDisk NAND Flash Decoder sheet, but we do know this is SanDisk's latest and greatest 19nm part.

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Getting a good image of the Marvell 9175 proved tricky, but we managed to snap a shot with the light hitting the controller just right to show the contrast of the laser etching.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

Desktop Test System

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Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation

We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

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Going into the review we expected some odd performance traits given that SanDisk reworked the flash with an additional performance mode slipped into the NAND. Normally the highest performance comes at the larger block sizes, but the Ultra Plus is more like a sine wave than an angle.

We measured maximum read performance at nearly 529MB/s and write performance at just under 430MB/s.

Benchmarks - Sequential Performance

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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Reading across the drive we found the SanDisk Ultra Plus to be a very good performer. I was pleasantly surprised to see the drive outpace everything else on the chart in this task.

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The write performance is very good as well. SanDisk firmware engineers must have put in a lot of overtime to get the new four-channel Marvell controller working at these speeds. The Plextor M3 Pro uses the eight-channel version of this controller and as you can see here the LiteON engineers need to take a course at the SanDisk school of programming.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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The SanDisk Ultra Plus doesn't sacrifice latency for sequential performance, here we see the read latency for a set of drives and the Ultra Plus 256GB manages to stay competitive.

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The write latency is higher than what we like to see coming from a Marvell based drive with a DRAM buffer.

Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: RC6

So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.

Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.

The software is used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.

0-Fill Compressible Data

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Incompressible Data

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There isn't a performance decrease when moving from 0-fill compressible data to incompressible data.

Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale

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Looking at IOPS through a queue depth scale is a new test that we just started using last month. In these two charts we have two other new, low cost SSDs that are just now hitting the market. Most companies show their maximum IOPS, but the lower queue depth IOPS are what most users experience.

The SanDisk Ultra Plus scales well, but the MyDigitalSSD BP4 with the same flash, but with a Phison controller, does very well at low queue depths. These two drives will square off again in a few days when we publish our BP4 review.

Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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When it comes to write IOPS, the Ultra Plus hits a brick wall just under 45K IOPS.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

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CDM uses incompressible data so we get our first real look at how the Ultra Plus compares to the drives with LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers like the Intel 520. I'm still blown away about the four-channel Ultra Plus' performance.

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When writing sequential data that is incompressible, the Ultra Plus has a lead of over 100MB/s on the Intel 520 240GB.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

The daily use programs in PCMark Vantage's HDD suite still show the Intel 520 running a little faster. We spoke with an engineer at Futuremark a few weeks back and learned all of these tests use compressible data.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

- Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test

Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)

60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB

120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB

240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB

Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

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SSDs slow when data is on the drive and this test measures the amount of slow down at 25%, 50% and 75% of the flash capacity filled. Here we see the limits of the four-channel design taking a toll on the Ultra Plus.

Benchmarks - BootRacer

BootRacer - System Boot Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0

Developer Homepage: Greatis

Product Homepage: BootRacer

Download here: http://www.greatis.com/bootracer/download.htm

Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation loaded with an operating system and several program files. The data on the drive at the time of the test is 45GB. The second test, 50GB Free, was run with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.

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Boot time is just one area where users feel the massive performance increase offered by an SSD over a mechanical drive. The SanDisk Ultra Plus does well in our Lenovo W530.

Benchmarks - DiskBench

DiskBench - Directory Copy

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

Developer Homepage: Nodesoft

Product Homepage: DiskBench

Download here: http://www.nodesoft.com/diskbench/download

Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSSpeed S301 SLC 128GB SSD to move a 15GB block of data to and from the target drive. This is part of our real world test regiment. Roughly 45GB of data resides on the target drive before the '15GB Block' is transfer. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.

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We built a real world data transfer test and use the target drive with an operating system and several programs installed to mimic real-world use. The Ultra Plus does well in both the read and write tests.

Benchmarks - Power Testing

Bapco MobileMark 2012 1.5

Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5

Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com

Test Homepage: http://www.bapco.com

MobileMark 2012 1.5 is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of office productivity, media creation and media consumption. Unlike benchmarks that only measure battery life, MobileMark 2012 measures battery life and performance simultaneously, showing how well a system design addresses the inherent tradeoffs between performance and power management.

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The power charts are starting to get a little difficult to single out an individual drive so we're isolates a couple of models below.

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The SanDisk Ultra Plus delivered the third best score we've measured to date in the 240-512GB capacity size. The Crucial m4 and Samsung 840 give a little more battery life, but the Ultra Plus did much better than any of the LSI SandForce drives on the market today.

PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw

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Looking at a test during a run in PCMark Vantage we see how the Ultra Plus performs so well. The idle power is a little higher than the Samsung 840, but much less than the Intel 520. The Ultra Plus uses less power when reading back data from the drive. The peaks are random date writes and the Ultra Plus manages to draw less power in nearly all of the spikes than the 840, the Intel 520 does a little better when writing random data.

If you are reading data back at a constant rate while on battery power, the Ultra Plus will actually give you more battery life than the Samsung 840.

Final Thoughts

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There are several things to consider when shopping for a SSD. The image above shows just one aspect, but for mainstream users, cost is one of the most important factors. Reviewing SSDs when they first launch is both exciting and at the same time problematic. We know SSD prices fall within two months of release, but this drive just hit the scene and we're not sure where the price will land.

Given that the SanDisk Ultra Plus has a very low cost build of materials (BOM) list, four NAND flash chips, single DRAM, single four-channel controller and a very small, price saving PCB, this could be a real contender for the ultra low price market. The problem is SanDisk didn't position the Ultra Plus in that category right from the start. The price is much lower than OCZ Vector and Samsung 840 Pro, but putting this drive in the mix with a hundred LSI SandForce drives isn't a good way to attract buyers, especially mainstream buyers who are just now getting a taste of the technology.

Once we surfed away from Newegg and used Google Shopping the choice became very clear on what we would spend our money on at this time. Ultra Plus tipped up all over around $220, but the SanDisk Extreme 240GB price was as low as $165. I would say $55 is enough of a reason to choose the tried and true Extreme over Ultra Plus.

The Ultra Plus does still have a few features that go beyond the Extreme drive. The first is better incompressible data performance. The second and maybe most important feature for a large number of users is much better battery life in notebooks and ultrabooks.

At this time we really have to say hold off on this drive. The performance is nice, the price not so much. Give it a few weeks and the price should start to drop off - we can't say how low it will actually go, but given the BOM and everything involved, we think Ultra Plus will become the leader in low priced drives. It just isn't there yet. Let's see what happens.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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